A Weekly Conversation with Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy
Each week during the 2008 regular season, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy will discuss topics pertinent to the Colts with Colts.com.
Question: A 10-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Once again, a close, low-scoring game decided late. It has gotten to the point this season where that's basically what this team is, hasn't it?
Answer: I think it's going to be. It's new ground for us. We always have kind of felt we've been a 21-, 24-, 27-point team and we have had a lot fewer possessions this year. People are playing us this way – sort of the way Cleveland did. We're not getting the ball back as fast defensively. It's a game where you have to be careful. You have to take advantage of your opunities and they are tighter, lower-scoring games than we're used to.
Q: In 2002 and 2003, you used to talk about how the team wasn't comfortable playing close games, how if the offense wasn't really clicking there might be some panic in the locker room. You've come a long, long way from those days, haven't you?
A: There was a time we weren't comfortable playing those kinds of games. We had the tendency to make the mistake that would lose those kinds of games. We've been in a lot of them this year. We have been in spots were we were down in the second half. We've just had to hold our poise, continue to play and trust that someone would make the play to pull it out. We're getting better at that.
Q: It goes without saying that you've been proud of this team in a lot of ways over the past six years, but to go 5-0 in November after the September and October this team had – it has been a special month, hasn't it?
A: It has been great to see. It has been gratifying. It's harder to do when you're 3-4. If you're 5-2, to put together a streak like that, everyone kind of expects it. But when you're 3-4 – we didn't set out to say, 'Boy, we have to go 5-0 in November,' but it was, 'Hey, we've got some tough games coming up. We have to improve every week. We have to win.' That's what the guys set out to do.
Q: And by winning those five consecutive AFC games, you really put yourself in solid playoff position with the tiebreaker advantages over many of the contenders.
A: That was the goal after we lost to Tennessee (in late October). We kind of had to refocus. We don't know what's going to happen. They have a couple of tough games left, but we at least have put ourselves in a position where we don't have to look for help. That was our goal – to get back in the playoff race. We could start putting teams behind us one by one that we played and we did it.
Q: And it really was a case, as you said, where you redefined the conference games and made them almost like AFC South games had been in the past . . .
A: We really did look at it that way. Here, we've always talked about the AFC South and what we had to do there. We had to kind of take a break from that and say, 'OK, here's where we are. For us to get in the playoffs, we have to look at all of these other teams and their record. We have to somehow jump over them. The only way to do that is to win the AFC games and win those battles head to head.' It takes maybe a tighter focus, because every week you're in a crucial game. That's how it has been now for the last five weeks and that's how it will be for the next four.
Q: Is there any danger of getting worn out mentally having to play that way week after week?
A: I don't think so. You just turn your focus. One of the good things is we have had two days off a week during the stretch, so guys get away from it on Monday and Tuesday. Then, you come back and you say, 'OK, here's where we are. Here's what we need to do with this team.' I think it has been good. I think it has been good being away from the players for a couple of days. They haven't had to be in here answering questions about next week until Wednesday.
Q: It seems like the same old story for this team on the injury front. It appears you'll be without middle linebacker Gary Brackett this week and you said three-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday likely will miss at least another week. But that's just something with which you deal . . .
A: I think we've been through it, missing different guys and having other guys step up. The players expect that to happen. We'll plan and figure out what our best lineup is going to be. Guys will respond. That's one good thing I like about them. They don't look at the negative. They don't dwell on the negatives. They look forward.
Q: The victory over the Browns was unusual in several respects. Most notably, it was a game where the Colts scored a defensive touchdown to take the lead in the fourth quarter. There really hasn't been a game quite like that for the Colts in a while . . .
A: When you're sitting there thinking, 'Boy, we gave away some points – (wide receiver) Reggie (Wayne) was close in the end zone and it'd be nice to have those four points or maybe we should have taken the three points at halftime.' You're sitting there and you're down and even after you get the score, you're only up four. With (returner) Josh Cribbs sitting there, you're thinking, 'Any return is a possibility.' It was kind of a nerve-wracking game. You always felt we were just a play away from clicking and making something happen on offense but it never did come.
Q: But you never had the feeling of, 'Boy, there's just no way the Colts' offense can score.' Like you said, the offense was close all day . . .
A: I never thought that. I was thinking, 'We can't let these guys 10 points up.' When it was 6-3, I was thinking, 'If they do drive, we have to hold them to a field goal. We can't let it go to 13-3. That was my thought more than a defensive score. I was just waiting. I figured we'd score a touchdown at some point and win the game 10-6 or 10-9.
Q: You break the season into quarters and after an unbeaten third quarter, you enter the fourth period in control of your playoff destiny. What's the theme entering the final month?
A: We have to continue to improve. That's probably our goal. We improved in November and we have to continue to improve in December. I think we have learned about looking at records when San Diego and Cleveland don't have great records, but they are very, very talented teams with Pro Bowl players. We had to extend everything we had to win those games, so I don't think we'll fall into the trap of looking at records and expecting easy games, but our practice has to focus on improving the things we aren't doing as well – fundamentally, our run defense, some 3rd-and-1s that could come back to haunt us if we don't convert them, getting back to the ball security that has been a trademark for us – those kinds of things we'll be able to focus on. If we do them, we'll feel like we can win.
Q: It was an odd day Sunday for turnovers. You had three, but one of them was an interception at the end of the first half and another was a fumble that only cost you three points . . .
A: That one (at the end of the first half), you kind of throw out and it was a big one (interception) on the first drive of the second half. We had stopped them and got the ball on the punt. Now, you feel like, 'OK, it's 6-3 and we can go down and take the lead.' In one play, you're off the field again, so it was kind of frustrating. After having the long drive that didn't score, now we feel like, 'Hey, we're going to move the ball again,' so we had two situations where we only had one play and we're off the field. In a game like that, that was critical.
Q: Now, as you head into December, you're a good situation as a coach. You control your destiny, yet there's no margin for error and the team seems motivated . . .
A: It's great to be 8-4. We have to assume Baltimore (8-4) and New England (7-5) and Miami (7-5) are going to win all of their games, so right now, it looks like it will take 11 (victories) to be sure, so we've just got to continue to play and continue to take them one at a time. We know if we do get to our 11, we'll be in. We don't have to win and hope, so it is set up as well as you can have it after a 3-4 start.
Q: One thing that's interesting is you've had a lot of winning streaks here, but before this season, you never had won five consecutive games by less than a touchdown. Do you feel like you're living on the edge, or not?
A: You are, but that's the NFL in most cases. We haven't faced it all that much in the last three years, but most of the time you do. That's why we practice the two-minute drill so much, because most of the time you are either trying to score to win the game or trying to stop them to win the game.